Mocha Beans founder, Cathal Keogh, answers a few questions about how Mocha Beans got started. It’s a wonderful story about the first espresso in Galway.
When did you first fall in love with coffee?
Well, I think I got a late start, by most standards. I didn’t really get to like the taste of coffee until I was in my late teens. My first contact with espresso and specialty coffees was during a course in hotel training in Geneva in 1985. That was long before espresso coffee had any presence in Ireland.
What did you do in the meantime, until espresso coffee did catch on?
In 1990 I started working at Bewleys. I worked in all areas of Bewleys, from catering to managing to acquiring locations to working in the roasting plant.
I started off contract catering on an oil rig off the coast of Kinsale. We had to be helicoptered out to the rig and worked one week on, one week off.
Of course, Bewleys coffee houses had been mostly focused on drip, or filter, coffee and cakes and pastries.
When did you finally get back out to Galway?
In 1997 we sold our house in Bray to start up the first Mocha Beans on Cross Street. For several months our whole family lived in a single bedroom. The bank just didn’t understand that coffee could be such an important business; so drastic measures were in order!
In November 1997 we opened up on Cross Street. We started out with a 3lb gas roaster from England.
There was definitely an education period for people to come to appreciate to espresso coffee, but by our third day open we were very busy.
We even got a few famous customers in our first few months. Colm Meaney from Star Trek had his photo up on our wall for some time, among others.
What was the next move for Mocha Beans?
In May, 1999 we opened up our second location in Salthill. Everyone thought we were crazy. Salthill was meant to be on the decline, a town barely kept open by tourism and only in the summer.
We got a 15lb electric roaster and put it right in front of the shop. Maybe it was the aroma of fresh roasted coffee that drew people in, but they kept coming in through summer and winter. Good coffee really was in demand.
What is your favourite memory of coffee roasting?
At one point I was the shop manager of the Bewley’s Café Grafton Street, which was famous for roasting coffee in the front of the shop with the delicious smell pouring out onto the street. One busy Saturday I caught the roaster on fire. The fire brigade came and the whole building had to be evacuated. I’m sure I’m not the only one who will never forget that day!
What are your plans for the future of Mocha Beans?
I think the brand and the quality could well be enough to take us national, possibly even into the European market.
One thing I would really like to do is to lead by example. If Mocha Beans could inspire small coffee houses around the country to start roasting coffee for themselves we could move away from a dependence on big companies and keep the spirit of fresh coffee alive.
That is how small coffee houses in the states have survived to compete with large corporations. The sooner we get ourselves established here, the better!